Key Tips for Maintaining Your HVAC System
Autumn’s mild weather and brilliant beauty inspire fun outdoor activities such as beach bonfires, bike rides on tree-lined trails, and camping excursions to your favorite getaway locale. Amid all of the enjoyment, you might forget about maintaining your HVAC system and preparing for the upcoming winter months.
Because heating and cooling account for over half of the energy use in most households, it is vitally important to ensure your system is running at optimum levels. Here are some steps to take to ensure you are maintaining your HVAC system as colder weather approaches.
Running Your System Safely
During fall’s temperate weather, you have probably turned off your heating and cooling system to save on your utility bills. The best way to start the pre-season inspection process, however, is to turn on your heating system. Set the thermostat to a degree that is higher than your home’s current temperature, and wait for your unit to release warm air. If your heating system doesn’t emit heated air or your home’s temperature doesn’t rise to the degree on your thermostat, call your trusted HVAC technician for help.
A system that does not emit warm air could be a symptom of a more serious problem. The solution could be as simple as changing a dirty air filter or igniting a pilot light, or you may need a professional to clear a blockage or repair ductwork. Obviously, you want to take whatever preventive steps are necessary to ensure your heating system performs optimally.
Dirty air filters cause your heating and cooling unit to work extra hard, and they could lead to overheating and costly system failures. According to leading HVAC manufacturers, you should change your HVAC air filter every 90 days. If you have pets or live in an area that has a lot of construction activity, you will want to change your system’s filter every 60 days. When you are performing a pre-season inspection of your heating system, it is best to replace the air filter to avoid problems later in the season.
Vents and Registers
The vents and registers that help to circulate warm air throughout your home can be the cause of unsafe and inefficient HVAC operations when they are not properly maintained. Dirty vents that contain dust, pet dander, and other contaminants lower indoor air quality. You want your heating system to be a conduit of comfort for your family and not a source of breathing problems and illnesses.
To prevent indoor air pollution, dust and vacuum your vents and registers. If your system’s ducts have not been cleaned in several years, call for professional help. Many HVAC companies specialize in cleaning ductwork. Expert HVAC contractors perform video inspections of your ducts to show you what your ductwork looks like before and after a professional cleaning. Having your ductwork cleaned gives you peace of mind that your indoor air is as clean as possible and that your HVAC unit will not have a premature breakdown in the middle of winter due to negligence.
Noises and Smells
When you turn on your heating system after it has been idle all summer, you will want to listen for any unusual sounds. Some rattling noises that come from your HVAC unit are signals that components are loose. Your heating system could let you know that it is having some ignition problems if you hear a booming noise. Grinding sounds indicate motor issues, and thumping noises mean that one or more components are off balance. Strange noises that do not go away within a few minutes of system start are signals that you need to schedule a service appointment with a licensed HVAC professional immediately.
Strange smells, like unusual noises, are nothing to ignore when it comes to preparing your HVAC unit for the rigors of winter. These three distinct smells indicate serious issues:
- Burning smell
- Moldy smell
- Rotten egg smell
An odor that smells like electric burning could mean that your HVAC unit’s motor is overheating or its wiring is burning. When this occurs, shut down your system immediately, and call your local HVAC professional for help. Ignoring this issue could lead to an expensive system replacement or a dangerous house fire.
When you run your air conditioning unit during the summer, condensation collects in the system and sometimes gets into your ductwork. When you turn on your heating system in the fall and smell a musty odor coming from your vents, you should call a licensed HVAC technician to check out your ductwork. Getting a ductwork cleaning can help make sure that mold spores do not spread throughout your home and cause respiratory problems for your family.
A rotten egg smell that comes from your HVAC unit is a telltale indicator of a natural gas leak. You will want to shut the system down immediately before calling your gas company. Do not stay in the home until after the leak has been repaired.
Industry experts agree that you should have your heating and cooling system inspected and serviced every year. Fall is the perfect time to have your heating system checked out by licensed professionals. HVAC companies use a standardized checklist to perform a complete assessment of your system.
Evaluating your HVAC unit’s controls is part of the 25-point HVAC inspection that licensed HVAC technicians perform during annual service calls. These professionals check whether your unit turns on and off properly. They also test your system to see if your thermostat is working normally. If there is a problem with your heating unit’s controls or thermostat, it could mean that there are loose electrical connections. That is okay because your HVAC technician will check for those issues as well.
Going Under the Hood
Heating systems that use gas or oil as energy sources have connectors that safely transfer those substances throughout the heating system to produce warm air. When those connectors loosen or become damaged, your HVAC unit turns into a safety hazard. An annual inspection of these connectors can help you to make sure that your heating system will work safely throughout the winter months.
Your system’s annual 25-point inspection will also include cleaning and lubrication of major heating unit components. An HVAC technician will clean your heating unit’s burner and heat exchanger. He or she will also lubricate moving parts in your system’s motor. While you can clean parts of your HVAC unit that you can access, many important parts are located inside the system. For your personal safety and to maintain your HVAC unit’s warranty, you should contact a licensed HVAC professional to do these tasks.
Inspections and Ductwork
Your annual inspection is a good time to talk with your HVAC professional about heating issues that you had last season. Some homeowners experience cold spots in their home even though their heating system runs non-stop throughout the winter. If your energy bills are high but parts of your home are still cold, your HVAC technician should be able to identify the problem.
Leaking ductwork is a common reason for cold spots in parts of your home. Your HVAC professional can inspect the ducts and repair them before winter. This will leave you with a more comfortable home, lower energy bills, and a more efficient heating system.
Replacing Your HVAC System
If your heating system is more than 15 years old, you should consider replacing it rather than servicing it. Heating systems that do not keep homes consistently warm, ones that require extensive repairs, and those that generate high utility bills are all candidates for replacement. Age and wear and tear are not the only reasons to replace your HVAC unit.
Many people add square footage to their homes or change room layouts, and they expect their HVAC systems to perform as efficiently as before they remodeled. These people almost never get back that previous level of comfort or energy efficiency without upgrading their heating and cooling systems.
Did you know…nearly 85% of U.S. homes have some type of HVAC system.
If you decide to replace your heating system, you will be pleased to learn about the new models that deliver superior performance and improved energy efficiency. Fall is the time to talk with your local HVAC contractor about the heating system that best fits your family’s lifestyle and home size. During this off-peak season, your HVAC technician can take extra time to identify your needs and explain your options.
You should look for a HVAC contracting company that employs technicians who have gone through the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification program. NATE-certified HVAC professionals know how to accurately calculate loads for HVAC units. Installing a heating system that is of a proper type and size will help you to achieve the highest level of comfort and energy efficiency.
Calculating Heating Loads
Calculating heating loads for your new system is a complex undertaking that is best left to an expert HVAC contractor. At a minimum, load calculations consider your home’s size, level of insulation, quality of windows, layout, and its geographic location. A home that has a high level of insulation requires a smaller heating load.
An improper calculation will leave you with a heating unit that can not keep your home warm no matter how hard it works. This undue strain on the system leads to a shorter life for your HVAC unit. In humid climate zones, an incorrectly sized heating system may not remove excess moisture from your home adequately, which leads to mold problems.
Consider System Add-Ons for Comfort and Savings
Even if you decide against replacing your HVAC unit, it is still a good idea to obtain an accurate load calculation of your current heating system from a qualified HVAC contractor. A reputable HVAC technician will test the variables that compose his or her load calculation. These tests involve special equipment and cameras that evaluate the tightness of your home; they go beyond your standard energy audit. After conducting these tests, your HVAC technician will know if your heating system needs some help to operate efficiently.
Many times the results of energy audits and HVAC load calculation testing show that your HVAC system is too small for your home’s heating requirements. In these cases, HVAC professionals may suggest that you install extra insulation in attics and weather stripping around doors and windows.
Humidity and Dry Air
While high humidity plagues many homeowners in southern climate zones, those who live in high-altitude regions have the opposite problem. A home that is located in a drier climate and that has insufficient insulation will let in dry air. During the winter months, those homes feel colder due to a lack of moisture. Occupants raise their heating systems’ thermostats in vain attempts to get their homes just a little warmer. Besides installing extra insulation, these homeowners get better results by purchasing furnace-mounted humidifiers.
Running your home’s heating system causes your indoor air to become drier in most cases. A humidifier puts moisture back into the air. With a whole-house humidifier, you control the level of humidity in your home. This is important because too much moisture damages furnishings and encourages mold growth.
Many whole-house humidifiers require very little maintenance. You do not have to worry about scrubbing a water reservoir daily to avoid the spread of harmful bacteria throughout your house. Whole-house humidifiers are safe, cost-effective solutions for whole-house comfort.
If you have ever lost sleep due to a stuffy nose or dry sinuses, you will appreciate the value of a room humidifier. Chances are, however, that you are not the only one in your household who is suffering. The best way to make sure that every room in your house is bathed in comforting, moist air is to install a whole-house humidifier. These devices are called furnace humidifiers or HVAC humidifiers because they attach to your home’s HVAC system to blow moisturized air evenly throughout your home. These are the four main types of furnace humidifiers:
- By-pass humidifier – Takes in air from the heat ducts and passes it through a water panel. The air is then sent back into the house as steam.
- Flow-through humidifier – Water flows through the humidifier and evaporates into the air. They are low maintenance.
- Steam humidifier – Increase humidity by heating up water until it begins to boil. The steam produced is pushed back through the vents by the fan. They are typically the fasted and most efficient method of increasing humidity.
- Drum humidifier – Has a pan of water with a belt that rotates through the pan. Water from the belt evaporates into the air leaving your furnace. They are typically less expensive than other types of humidifiers.
A whole-house humidifier is a smart HVAC add-on that improves your family’s quality of life, lessens the strain on your heating system, and lowers your heating bills over time. While these appliances come with installation instructions, having a professional set up your furnace-mounted humidifier will protect your HVAC system warranty and your personal safety.
Installing a programmable thermostat is a great heating system add-on that will improve comfort and energy savings. With a programmable thermostat, you can set your heating system to warm your home to a certain temperature before you arrive there from work. When you are away from home, you can set the thermostat to a lower temperature that will cause your system to remain idle. This results in significant energy savings without compromising your family’s comfort.
According to Energy Star…programmable thermostats can save you up to $180 per year in energy costs.
Programmable thermostats work for single and multi-zone heating systems, and they come in a variety of configurations. You can get a programmable thermostat that accommodates different schedules for every day of the week or one that operates better for homeowners who have 5-day workweek schedules. Smart programmable thermostat options are also available.
These smart thermostats can be set remotely through your smartphone. Some state-of-the-art models feature geo-fencing technology that turns on your thermostat automatically once your smartphone gets within a certain proximity to your house. Giving your heating system a break during times when you are not at home lessens the burden on your HVAC unit and can extend its life.
Final HVAC Thoughts
Without a properly functioning heating system, your home will quickly become unlivable during the winter. Besides being a major contributor to your family’s overall comfort, your heating unit is likely your family’s largest source of energy consumption.
By following the suggestions that are described above, you will make sure that your home’s heating system delivers adequate, consistent warmth throughout the cold months in an energy-efficient manner.
Additional HVAC Resources
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